Pete Carroll might have started USC’s football recruitment for the 2010 season, but Lane Kiffin was the man who closed national signing day with one of the best classes in the country.
The new USC football coach officially signed 18 players Wednesday, including five five-star recruits, and produced the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, according to Rivals.com.
USC jumped ahead of Florida, Texas, Auburn, Alabama and other powerhouse programs, helped by the verbal commitment of No. 1 offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson on Wednesday afternoon. ESPN ranks USC’s recruiting class at No. 7, with Florida, Texas and Alabama as the top three.
Henderson joined four other five-star offensive recruits going to USC, including No. 1 running back Dillon Baxter, No. 1 wide receiver Kyle Prater, No. 1 athlete Robert Woods and No. 3 wide receiver Markeith Ambles, to complete a strong offensive class for the Trojans.
“To see a skilled class like this come together is very exciting,” Kiffin said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I’m sure one that Matt Barkley is extremely excited to have around him. These guys will make any quarterback good. So we’re excited.”
The five five-star recruits are more than any other program received. USC’s average recruited player ranking of 4.22 stars was also the highest in the nation.
Although Baxter, Prater and Woods were expected to sign with USC, the statuses of Ambles and Henderson were uncertain heading into national signing day. Fortunately for Kiffin and USC, both players decided to don the Cardinal and Gold, though Henderson has not fully signed with the university yet. Still, it helped ease the pain of seeing some potential recruits, such as No. 9 linebacker Josh Shirley and No. 9 safety Dietrich Riley, join UCLA’s eighth-ranked class.
“We’re very impressed with this class,” Kiffin said. “There will be more that we add here. I think it’s a dynamic class.”
Joining Kiffin’s top recruits are a number of talented offensive players. USC signed three top-six tight ends, including No. 1 Xavier Grimble, No. 4 Christian Thomas and No. 6 Randall Telfer. Kiffin said he expects them all to compete for jobs at the tight end position to help replace Anthony McCoy next season, but the recruits might also play elsewhere.
While many of the Trojans’ most notable recruits are on the offensive end, Kiffin signed some top defensive talent as well. No. 3 defensive tackle George Uko committed to USC, and No. 9 defensive back Nickell Robey chose the Trojans on Wednesday morning to join Dion Bailey, Demetrius Wright and Anthony Brown in a strong defensive backfield class.
Kiffin’s staff did, however, miss out on some key linebacker recruits. Instead of luring some of the top athletes, USC signed Glen Stanley out of Eastern Arizona Junior College to help create depth and competition at the position.
“All that [ranking] means is we got some very talented players. We’ve got a lot of work to do to coach them, to develop them,” he said.
Kiffin said it spoke volumes for USC’s football program that, even without signing a large number of players, still has one of the best classes in the nation. He also expects some of the new players to make an immediate impact next season, similar to the way he saw wide receiver Mike Williams star on the field as a freshman in 2002, when he caught 81 passes and scored 14 touchdowns.
With recruiting now behind him for the time being, Kiffin said his next step will be piecing together an offensive coaching unit and finalizing his staff for the 2010 season. He said he will begin interviewing potential coaches Thursday morning.